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Chapter Thirty One

“The ship is under attack!”


Toke and Zashiel's eyes met for a split second, and then the two of them raced from their cabin, leaping over the dead intruder, and burst into the corridor. Another unfamiliar face was out there, coming out of another cabin. There was blood on his sword.  Zashiel threw her chakram the moment he came into view, and he fell dead as well. Now that they were out of their cabin, the sounds of violence out on deck were much, much clearer.


“Who are they?” Toke asked as they ran for the door. “Pirates?”


“I don't know,” Zashiel answered.


“A lake this big has to have pirates of some kind. They must be—”


The words stopped dead in his mouth as they emerged from the corridor, and into utter insanity.  A dozen different fights were going on all over the ship, the barge's massive deck making for the perfect battleground. Gruff men with murder in their eyes and weapons in their hands fought against the crew of the Seventh Swordfish. A fire had been lit at the other end of the deck, slowly spreading to consume the painted wood floor. Even as Toke watched, four more of the attackers climbed over the side of the barge. Behind them, Toke could see another ship floating alongside the Swordfish.  Smaller than the barge, but sleeker and somehow more intimidating, like a shark swimming alongside a docile whale. A warship.


“Come on!” Toke yelled, raising his axes as he charged straight at the four newcomers. The pirates barely had time to react before he leaped, kicking the one in the middle so hard that he went flying back over the side of the Swordfish. Toke went with him, foot still planted firmly on his chest, and as they went over the side he made two more anchors to the other pirates on his right and left. He felt the anchors go taut, and heard the pirates cry out in confusion as he towed them overboard behind him. He anchored himself to the wall at the last second, standing upright while three splashes came from the dark water just below him.


The fight was far from over, though. Weakening his gravity, Toke leaped all the way up the side of the ship and landed back on the deck just as Zashiel dispatched the last of the four pirates. Her chakrams flashed, reflecting the golden light of her wings, and her enemy dropped his sword and fell, grabbing at his throat. Blood welled up between his fingers. Toke paled a little when he saw the pirate looking at him, his eyes pleading, desperate... and then dead.


He gave Zashiel a cold look. “Did you have to—”


“Yes,” was all she said.


Toke opened his mouth to argue, but a blur of red appeared in between them before he could. Captain Treyn spun, twin knives flashing—and a fifth pirate fell dead at his feet. Toke's eyes widened. Where had that one come from? If it hadn't been for Treyn...


“Quit gawking and help, you idiots!” he yelled, sparing a second to glare at each of them before taking off to rejoin the fight.


Toke met Zashiel's eyes, and they nodded to each other. As one, they raced across the deck, back into the fight.


“On your right, Toke!” the Sorakine yelled.


Toke had already seen the oncoming pirate, though, and cartwheeled to the side. The pirate, big and mean, grinned and raised a meat cleaver—a smiting meat cleaver of all things—obviously expecting the scrawny young man to be easy prey.  Toke was all too happy to prove him wrong as he leaped high above the pirate's reach, and came down directly on top of him. The big man crumbled beneath his increased weight, and Toke gave an extra stomp on his head for good measure before hurling his axe at another pirate who was fighting a crewmember fifteen feet away. The flat of the blade struck the back of his head, knocking him out cold, and Toke pulled it back to his hand again. Turning, he—


“Hey!” a familiar voice shouted. “That one was mine!”


Toke spun back to the pirate he'd just knocked out, and saw Ludsong standing there with a large hammer in his hands, scowling at him.


“Uh, sorry,” Toke said with a shrug. “Won't happen a—look out!”


A third pirate dashed in to take on the first mate, but Ludsong barely gave him a passing glance before swinging his hammer. It struck the pirate in the chest, and sent him flying at least ten feet before he came crashing back down to the deck.


Toke blinked. “Wow.”


Ludsong sauntered over to Toke as if this were nothing out of the ordinary. The gleam in his eyes looked positively wicked, and for a moment Toke was worried the large man was going to kill him and then pass it off as the work of the pirates.


“Who are these people?” Toke demanded.


Ludsong grunted and looked at the ship that was all but docked to the side of the Swordfish. “Blackbane Kuerlo. Didn't know he came this far west.”




“Obviously.” Ludsong ground his teeth for a second. “He usually attacks merchant ships, though.  Things that've got treasure and things he can pawn off in them. Why's he wastin’ time on a circus barge?”


A shift in gravity made Toke look to see a gang of seven more pirates heading their way, murder in their eyes.


“We can worry about that later,” he said, raising his axes. “After they're off our ship”


Ludsong grunted his agreement. “So, you think you deserve to marry my daughter?”


Toke looked at him in surprise. “I don't think now's the best—”


“Well, show me you can protect her!”


With a roar, Ludsong charged at the oncoming pirates. Toke, feeling strangely small beside him, came too. One swing of that massive hammer sent four of the seven pirates flying. Toke fixed his eyes on the last three. Those would be his, then.


The first pirate swung his cutlass as Toke came within striking distance, and Toke dropped to his knees, leaning back as far as he could as he slid across the deck. The blade passed less than an inch above his face, and as soon as it was gone Toke sprang back to his feet and drove his knee into the pirate's gut. The other two spun to intercept him, placing him directly in between them both. Toke jumped again, thrust his legs out, and kicked them both in the face. He grimaced when he came back down. Even for someone like him, a perfect midair split wasn't the most comfortable thing in the world.


“Not bad,” Ludsong reluctantly admitted. He glanced down. “Ain’t you gonna to kill ‘em?”


“I...” Toke looked at each of the fallen pirates. Still alive, but just lying there, defenseless. “I don't like killing.”


Ludsong hummed in his throat, displeased, and thrust an elbow out just as another pirate tried to take him from behind. The pirate fell to the ground, moaning, and the first mate turned, raised his hammer, and—


“Wait, stop!” Toke yelled, reaching for Ludsong.


Too late. Ludsong swung the hammer, flattening the pirate's skull with a sickening crunch.


“You want to marry my daughter,” Ludsong said without turning around, “you gotta learn to protect her.”


“You can protect people without having to kill!” Toke yelled.


Ludsong glanced over his shoulder at Toke, like a parent listening to a child who was too young to know what they were talking about, and then shook his head. “You've still got a lot of growin’ up to do, kid.”


With that, he charged back into the fight, swinging his hammer gleefully. Toke let him go, feeling stunned. Further down the deck, Zashiel was laying waste to attackers left and right. Her chakrams spun and flew, going one way and then another as if she had tied strings around them. Her expression was grim, but calm. Untroubled.


I... I don't have to be a murderer, he thought, slowly scanning the carnage all around him.


Another shift in gravity snapped him out of his stupor, and he spun just in time to catch the falling sword between both his axes. The pirate growled, and Toke's wrist flared with pain, but he ignored both and waited for the pirate to make the next move. As soon as he stopped pushing down on Toke's blades, preparing to raise his sword for another attack, Toke launched into a backflip, his foot striking the pirate square in the chin. The pirate stumbled backwards, cursed, and glared at Toke. He took another swing at Toke's stomach. Toke dodged out of the way, even though his jacket would have protected him from anything as harmless as a sword, and then darted in axes ready to swing, and—


“Dabba, kill!”


A massive tan blur shot past Toke, and the pirate vanished. Toke swung anyway, his body already in motion, but there was nothing but air for him to hit. He stumbled a couple steps, and turned to look just as a bonechilling scream rent the air, rising even above the turmoil of the rest of the battle. Dabba crunched down on the unfortunate pirate's throat, and the scream stopped. Then he raised his head and look at Toke.


Toke learned something in that moment. He could face Gravity Storms, Sorakines, and mad scientists, but nothing could have ever prepared him for the look of utter hostility in a hungry lion's eyes.


“N- Nice kitty,” he said, raising his hands.


Dabba bared his teeth, and Toke prepared to jump out of the way, but before either of them could move a whistle rang through the battle. Dabba went rigid for a second, and then chased after it. Toke followed the lion with his eyes, and spotted Treyn sinking his knives into another pirate's chest. Dabba charged past him, pouncing on an enemy that was threatening to sneak up on the captain.


“What'd I tell you about standing around?” Treyn yelled. Toke jumped when he realized he was speaking to him. “Either help out or do us all a favor and throw yourself overboard!”


Toke felt a pirate coming up on his left, and he spun around without looking, his heel striking the pirate on the ear. He went down with a groan.


“I'm doing the best I can, but your cat's getting in my way!” He yelled.


To his surprise, Treyn actually laughed at that. “Too bad! Pirate attacks are some of the only exercise he gets! Now get fighting!”


Toke growled in irritation, but turned and ran back into the action anyway. The circus crew was holding up surprisingly well—far better than Toke would have ever expected of them. None of them could match Treyn's elegant dance of blades, or Ludsong's incredible brute strength, but they worked together to bring down the pirates with skill and cohesion that spoke of months, if not years of training.


Toke jumped and brought the flats of both his axes down on a pirate's head, knocking him out before he'd even realized he was under attack.


He wanted to think that meant that the pirates were in over their heads, and the battle would be over soon. Judging by the way another twenty of them clambered over the Swordfish's side, though, he got the sinking feeling that wouldn't be the case. The circus crew may have been better trained, but the pirates still had the advantage of numbers. Lots and lots of numbers.


One of the newcomers spotted Toke, and came running at him, cackling. He had an axe as well, a woodcutter's axe for chopping down trees. Big and cumbersome, nothing at all like Toke's axes, which were made for quick swings and throwing. Toke did exactly that, drawing one of his axes behind his head and throwing it at the pirate with all his might. The pirate flinched, but didn't have time to dodge. Luckily for him, the axe landed exactly where Toke wanted it to: embedded in the handle of his own axe. A quick tug of his powers yanked the larger axe out of the pirate's hands, and Toke ducked in, swept the pirate's legs out from under him, and then drove his elbow into the back of his skull as he fell. The pirate's head hit the deck with a crack and he fell still.


“Toke, move!”


Toke spun around to see Zashiel fly up above them, a pirate dangling in each hand. With a grunt, she slung them like discuses, sending them hurtling through the air. Toke jumped out of the way at the last second. Down below him, he heard the crowd of pirates cry out in pain as they were bowled over like tenpins by their own comrades.


“Nice one!” Toke exclaimed as he landed in the midst of the fallen pirates, but Zashiel had already flown back to the other side of the ship.  He scanned the ship, axes clutched tight, looking for more enemies to—


A scream rang across the deck, high pitched, shrill, and familiar.


Toke spun around, eyes wide. “Mom?”


He was running even before he realized his feet had started moving.  The scream had come from farther back, close to the door leading into the ship.  Toke cursed himself even as he ran.  How had he let himself get so wrapped up fighting pirates that he’d forgotten to worry about his own parents’ safety?


His eyes zeroed in on four figures standing near the back of the ship.  Even in the dim light, he recognized them easily—not just his parents, but Wayli and Boam too.  A veritable swarm of pirates had them surrounded.


“Get away from them!” he roared at the top of his lungs.  He weakened gravity and jumped, landing right in the middle of everything.


“Toke?” his mother shouted in surprise.


Toke didn’t respond.  He struck the pirate closest to him, knocking him out cold, and then spun to look for the door.  It was blocked by a wall of enemies—no problem.  Anchoring himself to the wall and increasing his weight, he curled into a ball and fell straight into the pirate horde.  For a second, he felt like one of Finch’s metal balls as he punched straight through their line, either knocking the pirates flat on their backsides or taking them with him.  When he hit the wall a moment later, there were no fewer than four pirates between him and it to soften the impact.  More importantly, it opened up a path to the doorway.


“Get inside!” he yelled, anchoring himself to the floor again and attacking a pair of pirates that were trying to close the gap.


His mother raised her hand. “But you—”


He rolled his eyes, backflipping over a pirate who was sneaking up behind him.  He wrapped his knees around the pirate’s neck as he fell, put his hands on the ground beneath him, and hurled the pirate backwards into the crowd.


“We can handle this,” he insisted. “Get into the hold and hide until we come and get you!  Now!”


For a second, he was worried they would keep arguing—he couldn’t keep the way open for long—but to his relief they all obeyed, rushing past him into the deserted corridor.


All but one.


“Boam, what are you waiting for?” Toke demanded, fending off another pirate who tried to go after his family.


The writer was still standing where Toke had found him.  His eyes were wide as he regarded the growing number of pirates who were crowding around them, and yet he still didn’t make for the door.  He lowered his eyes to where one of the pirates Toke had defeated had dropped his club, a brutal looking thing with nails pounded through it, and…


Oh, no, Toke thought.


Boam glanced at Toke, as if daring him to forbid him, and then darted for the club.  Cursing, Toke blocked an attack from another pirate, but at the same time lashed out behind him with his powers.  He latched onto the club a split second before Boam grabbed it, and the heavy weapon launched off the ground, flying straight for him.  Pushing the attacking pirate away, Toke leaped into the air at the last second, releasing his anchor to the club, and landed again just as it struck, bowling over at least half a dozen more pirates.


“Boam!” Toke yelled, whirling around to confront his friend.


To his surprise, the writer was red in the face with anger, something he didn’t think he had ever seen before.


“I can help!” he yelled back. “If you would just give me a smiting—”


“Look out!”


Boam blinked, and his mouth fell open in horror as yet another pirate raised a rusty cutlass over his head, ready to cleave Boam’s skull in two with it.  Toke anchored himself to the pirate, making him teeter off balance, and the attack missed Boam by half an inch.  All the writer’s bravery evaporated in that split second, and a small scream escaped his lips.  Toke jumped and came down hard on the pirate’s head.


“Inside!” Toke snapped, glaring at Boam again. “Now!”


This time, Boam didn’t argue.  He scuttled in through the door without a word, face as white as a Vlangurtian’s hair, and Toke slammed the door behind him.  Immediately, relief blossomed in his chest, and he turned to regard the rest of the pirates.  There were at least a dozen of them crowded around the door now.


“Sorry about that,” he said. “You have my undivided attention now.”


He raised his axes, expecting them to attack immediately, but to his surprise he found them all looking at him with something akin to curiosity in their dumb little eyes.


“White coat,” said one of them. “Two axes.”


“Jumping around like a hopfish,” added another.


“Say what now?” Toke asked, looking from one to the other.


The first pirate grinned. “I think we found him, boys!”


A chill ran down Toke's spine as the crowd of pirates let out a cheer. They knew who he was, he realized. They hadn't attacked the Seventh Swordfish to plunder it, they were here for him!


“Who are you people?” he demanded, his grip tightening on both his axes.


Instead of answering, the pirates took something from their shoulders. Something long, thick, and sinuous. Something, Toke realized, he had seen each of the pirates carrying, though he hadn't given it a second thought.




“Remember what the old man said,” the first pirate yelled, twirling the rope in one hand. A loop had been tied in the end. “He can't jump if he's tied down!”


Old man?


Before he could ponder it further, the pirates finally attacked. Half of them rushed at Toke with their weapons drawn. Toke jumped over them instinctively, but he realized too late that he had played right into their hands. A dozen ropes flew through the night air, and Toke hastily anchored himself to the wall behind him, reversing his jump so suddenly that his head whipped forward painfully. He passed narrowly over the heads of the pirates who had charged at him, landing and skidding across the wooden floor. The attackers stopped in their tracks, blinking stupidly in surprise.  Toke used that to his advantage, raising his axes and—


A rope went around his left arm.


Toke grunted as the pirate holding the rope yanked with all his might, pulling him off balance. He was a brawny man, probably weighing twice as much as Toke, so Toke jumped, anchoring himself to his captor, and streaked through the air toward him, legs extended. He obviously couldn't win in a contest of strength, but he doubted the pirate would be able to match him in dexterity.


Just before his feet, connected, though, a second rope lashed out, going around both ankles at once. Another yank jerked him off course, and he hit the floor hard, rolling until his bonds brought him to an abrupt stop.


Smite! Two ropes. Toke raised his axe to cut through the one around his arm—what he should have done before trying anything else—but a third rope looped around his neck, and the pull that tightened the knot nearly popped his head from his shoulders. All around him, the pirates were laughing. He struggled to sit up, but the ropes were pulled too taut for him to move. He fought, but stretched out as he was he couldn’t reach the ropes with his axe. It didn't matter anyway, because a few seconds later, another pirate appeared to lasso his right arm as well.


“Not so tough now, are you?” the pirate cackled, though he still scuttled away once the knot was secure.


In his desperation, Toke tried anchoring himself to the pirates that were holding his ropes, but that only made him lurch painfully one way and then the other. Smite, smite, smite, smite! Tying him down was a smart move, far too smart for these stupid thugs. Nobody had ever tried that on him before, and the strategy was proving to be frighteningly efficient. Whoever this “old man” was, he had put a lot of thought into this.


Think! he told himself. You're not just a fighter, you're a scientist! Use your smiting brain!


He began to summon the void, but before the comforting, quiet blanket of darkness could envelop his mind, a new figure appeared on the edge of the Swordfish to distract him. Toke could see little about him, silhouetted by the moon as he was, but he was both tall and muscular where the other pirates were either one or the other, and he wore a long coat.


“What have we here, boys?” the newcomer asked, stepping off the railing and coming into the light to inspect their catch.  His coat was deep blue, and he had a beard as black as midnight reaching down to his crotch that contrasted sharply against the pure Vlangurtian white that he had dyed the hair atop his head.


“We got 'im, Cap'n!” one of the pirated proudly reported, giving Toke's bonds another painful tug.


Where's Treyn and Ludsong? he thought. Smite it, where's Zashiel?


He didn't have to look to know the answer, though. The sounds of battle were coming from all over the ship. Wherever Zashiel was, she likely hadn't even noticed Toke was in trouble.


The fancy dressed pirate sauntered over, drawing a sword. Even in his predicament, the weapon caught Toke's eye.  It was several feet long, so long it should have been impossible to wield.  And the blade…  At first Toke thought the dim light must have been playing tricks on him, but his first impression had been right.  The blade was made of pure gold, and more gemstones than Toke could count were embedded in the handguard.  The pirate flourished it with obvious pride.


“So you did, so you did.” He knelt down by Toke's head. “Do you know who I am, boy?”


Toke breathed in through his nose and made a face. “The world record holder for fewest baths taken?”


The pirate's eyes widened.


“Sorry,” Toke said, shrugging as best he could. “Jokes aren't my specialty.”


“Well,” the pirate said, standing up, “it doesn't look like escaping's your specialty either. That's fine with me. The less trouble I have hauling your aft back to Yasmik, the better. Get him onboard and let's get out of here, men!”


The pirates began to drag Toke toward the edge of the ship, moving awkwardly but still managing to keep his ropes tight. They had obviously planned out how to capture him, but hadn't spared as much thought as to how they were going to carry him around. Toke flexed his arms experimentally, but found them still bound too firmly to do anything. He gritted his teeth—and an idea came to him.


“Blackbane Kuerlo?” he called as they neared the edge of the ship.


The captain stopped and looked over his shoulder with a smug grin. “So you have heard of me! Do people talk about me all the way in Yasmik too?”


Toke hesitated. What could he say that would stall Kuerlo the longest?


He's obviously got an ego as big as the Swordfish, his instincts told him. Use that against him.


“Don't flatter yourself,” Toke said out loud. “Someone on here recognized your ship and told me who you were.”


The smile fell from Kuerlo's face, but, to Toke's dismay, that revelation didn't send him into an indignant rage like he had hoped. Even so, the captain and his crew were standing at the edge of the ship, motionless.


“Bah,” he growled, waving his hand dismissively. “Maybe I'll stick around once I've delivered you. Show you northerners what a real pirate is!”


Toke's expression darkened. “You know who I am. You're here for my bounty.”


“Obviously. Why else would I attack a circus barge?”


“Who told you about me?”


Kuerlo opened his mouth to answer, but then he seemed to think better of it. He smirked at Toke again and waved for his men to tow him onto their ship.


“A right wise old man. I think you'll get to know him well on our voyage.”


They began to move again. Craning his neck as far as he could manage, Toke desperately searched for any hint that someone was coming to his rescue. There was nobody near them. He pulled against his bonds, but the pirates were holding them as tight as ever.


“Zashiel, help!” He yelled at the top of his lungs, abandoning all sense of dignity. He would probably be embarrassed come morning—assuming he was still on the circus barge by then—but for now he didn't care. “Treyn! Ludsong! Somebody!”


And then suddenly she was there.


Inaska appeared out of nowhere, whirling through the air like a white-haired tornado. Three twangs rang out before her feet had even touched the ground, and the pirates holding the ropes around Toke's neck and arms fell dead, arrows protruding from their chests. Without them to support him, Toke fell to the floor, but he was too stunned to move.


The acrobat landed with catlike grace, and Toke saw that her bow had already been slung over her shoulder. Her mask glittered in the moonlight, and, facing down the pirates without a trace of uncertainty, she reached behind her and drew two arrows. The remaining pirates regarded her with surprise, and then reached for their weapons. Panic drove an icy nail in Toke's heart, and he scrambled to his feet. As capable as she obviously was, he couldn't let Inaska fight all these pirates by herself!


To his surprise, though, Kuerlo waved his men down and drew his bejeweled sword. “Leave her, boys. This little beauty is mine!”


Toke's axes were lying on the ground a few feet away from him, and he hastily summoned them back to his hands with a yell. “If you lay so much as a finger on her, I'll—”


He was yanked off his feet by the last rope, that was still tied around his ankles. He fell and hit the ground hard, his head striking the wooden deck. Suddenly it felt like the entire barge had been caught in a giant whirlpool—no, that was just his head spinning. He groaned and rolled over onto his stomach, too dizzy to stand up. He tried anyway, only to be yanked off his feet again. He cursed under his breath. Another pirate tried to get hold of the rope around one of his arms, but Toke still had enough presence of mind to anchor himself to that pirate. Dizzy or not, he didn't need to stand up to fall haphazardly into his would-be captor. The pirate tumbled backwards with a grunt, but then the rope around his legs went taut, bringing Toke to the floor again.


When he looked up, Inaska was already fighting Kuerlo. She wielded her arrows like daggers, the same way she had when she'd fought Toke his first day onboard. She was a blur, too quick for even Toke to follow with his eyes. She would stab in one place, but by the time Toke recognized the attack she was already attacking somewhere else. Even as Toke watched, she stabbed at Kuerlo's chest and thighs simultaneously, and then followed that up with a spinning kick that should have taken the pirate captain's head off. Her fighting style looked chaotic, unplanned, but Toke's trained eyes were just barely able to make out her pattern. Every single move she made was calculated, not a single step out of place.


And it was a good thing, too, because Kuerlo was fighting back with skill that bordered on savagery. His golden sword sliced through the air in the blink of an eye, coming within a scant inch of Inaska's unarmored body, but she always managed to dance out of the way at the last second. Toke sucked in a nervous breath. Nobody could deny her skill, but all it would take was one lucky strike for Kuerlo to cut her clean in half.


Ludsong told me to prove I can protect her, he thought, flinching as the pirate captain nearly cut the girl's head from her shoulders, and here I am lying on the floor while she protects me!


No. He wasn't going to let that happen! With a growl, Toke kicked his legs up, his weakened gravity carrying him up onto his feet, and he jumped before the pirate holding the rope could pull on him. He spun to the side in midair, letting the rope coil up around his legs, pulling the pirate to him like a fish on a line. The pirate, realizing too late what was happening, went pale just before Toke struck him with all his might on his head. The pirate fell, and Toke landed and turned to face Inaska and Kuerlo—and promptly tripped over the rope.


“Smite!” he yelled, on the floor again.


In front of him, Inaska and Kuerlo paused in their fighting, both of them breathing heavily.


“You fight like a master, lass,” the pirate chuckled. “What's your name?”


Inaska didn't answer right away. She glared at Kuerlo through the holes in her mask for a few seconds, and then lowered her weapons.


“Who I am is the wrong question,” she whispered, so low that Toke could barely make out the words. “You should be asking what I am.”


Before Kuerlo could respond, Inaska reached up and tore the mask from her face. At first Kuerlo didn't react—but then his eyes landed on the C-shaped scares around her eye.


All the captain's bravado vanished in an instant. With a look of sheer terror on his face, he took a step backwards, tripped over his own ankles, and landed on his rump.  Heedless of how he looked, he resorted to scooting away from her as quickly as he could on his backside.


“I- It can't be!” he spluttered, holding his sword wardingly up in front of him.


Toke's eyes widened as he watched the scene play out in front of him.


C- C- CALIX CURA!” Kuerlo screamed at the top of his lungs.


And with those two words, all the fighting stopped. Toke could only watch as Kuerlo hurled himself over the side of the ship. A stampede of panicking pirates raced across the deck, desperate to follow their captain before Inaska could do... something. Toke shook his head in wonder. What on Fissura was going on?


Inaska was still standing where she'd been before, mask in her hand and... tears running down her cheeks?


“Inaska!” Toke exclaimed, struggling to his feet again. “Are you all—”


Inaska's eyes widened. “Toke, behind you!”


Too late, Toke felt the shifting gravity behind his back, and the familiar tingling, prickly sensation that came with it. Tingly, like static electricity in his brain.




Then the rope around Toke's ankles was pulled taut again, and he was flung into the air. Though the world flashed past him in a blur of motion, he still caught a clear glimpse of exactly what he was afraid he would see: green light. Then he was falling again, and he struck the Seventh Swordfish's deck so hard that pain seemed to ignite in every square inch of his body.




His head shot up, ignoring the pain, just in time to see Inaska run for him, but the glowing green figure—only his arms were glowing, he realized—reached out and blasted her back with a surge of kaosuryo.


“Inaska!” Toke screamed as he watched her go flying into the circus benches, splintering them. He tried to get to his feet—difficult, since his legs were tied together—but a pull of the rope from the glowing-armed man sent him toppling forward again. He fell to his knees, and he felt the impact shake something loose inside his jacket. Another tug sent him sprawled out on his face, and the object flew out through his collar.




Toke's eyes went wide as he recognized the cylindrical tube of Chiyuka ointment rolling across the floor, away from him—toward the man with the glowing arms!


“No!” he grunted, and threw himself after the miracle serum. He needed that. Not just for Pruyal, but for himself, and Zashiel, and Inaska, and…


He was too slow. The tube rolled until it bumped against the man's shoes, and he slowly bent down to pick it up just as Toke reached him, having to inch across the ground like a worm.


The old man looked down at him with scorn. “You've disappointed me again, Cassitoka. I'm beginning to lose my patience.”


Toke stopped. Did... Did he know this—


A syringe going into his chest glowing yellow liquid sudden bursts of power changing changing CHANGING!


“You!” He yelled at the top of his lungs. “It was you all along!”


He tried to leap to his feet, but a casual backhanded slap from the old man, enhanced by the armor's strength, knocked him onto his back. His head spun again, but he still fixed his eyes on the old man.


“What did you do to me?” he demanded. “Tell me!”


The old man's eyes lit up a bit at this. “Oh, so you are experiencing changes, then?” He took a threatening step toward him. “Tell me more!”


Before Toke could say anything else, though, there was a flash of silver, and something embedded itself in the floor beneath Toke's feet. One of Zashiel's chakrams, thrown with pinpoint accuracy to sever the rope that bound Toke's legs. His ankles were still tied together, but now they weren't connected to the old man anymore.


The old man looked up in annoyance as Zashiel swooped in, and then raised his arm.


“Toke, are you—


“Zashiel, look out!”


Too late. Another blindingly bright surge of light came from the man's glowing arms, and it struck Zashiel directly into the stomach. He heard her groan, and fall to the deck as her wings failed her.


“You smiting dropper!” he yelled, trying to get back to his feet again. His legs were wobbly underneath him after all the punishment he'd taken. Being tied together only further complicated matters. He didn't care, though. This dropper had hurt Inaska, he'd hurt Zashiel, and, worst of all, he was behind what was happening to Toke! Toke was going to thrash him within an inch of his life, and then drag all of his secrets from his slimy, filthy lips. Toke bent his knees, jumped, and—


A dart embedded itself in his neck.


Toke's body immediately stopped working, and he slammed down face first onto the floor.  His head was spinning, shadows were dancing in front of his eyes, and an inexplicable sense of exhaustion chased away any ability he might still have had to fight.


“It's time I sped things  up,” said the old man.  The way Toke's head was tilted, he could just make out the green light of his gauntlets, now little more than a fuzzy glow in the darkness. “Sleep, Cassitoka.  Sleep, but don't forget this time.  When you wake up, come find me.”


Who... Who are you? It was a struggle just to think.


“Come find me, and we'll end this.” He raised the Chiyuka tube. “In the meantime, I think I'll keep this.”


The old man turned left and left just as the darkness completely overtook Toke.  Toke did as he said.  He slept.


But he didn't forget.




VERY IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: As of today, Juryokine: Exile of Heroes is going on hiatus and will return on May 25th, 2019!  In the meantime, I’ll be posting the remaining chapters of The Gray Ranger: Unforgiven.  Hope to see you all there, and hope you all have a great and awesome New Year!

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